Telehealth Is in Greater Demand: Strategies for Health Plans to Impact Their Vulnerable Populations

Date: 11/13/20

Over the past several years, we’ve seen the telehealth landscape grow and evolve as more providers, payers, and members embraced it. In 2020, however, we saw a meteoric rise in telehealth use — which can be attributed, in large part, to the COVID-19 crisis. According to a recent survey, 42% of Americans say they’ve used telehealth since the pandemic began. The same survey reports that, of those who enjoyed telehealth services, 65% said they appreciated the convenience most of all.

The push for greater telehealth utilization will continue to grow stronger, and the convenience factor and the ability to check in with specialists and physicians regularly to manage more severe conditions are among the many reasons to embrace the continued use of telehealth.

Health plans certainly have a strong incentive to facilitate greater telehealth patient engagement among the country’s most vulnerable patient populations. Chronic condition management amounted to $1.1 trillion of the United States’ healthcare costs in 2016, and the total economic impact of chronic disease management equaled approximately $3.7 trillion. Enabling telehealth use in rural and poverty-stricken communities can improve chronic condition management, promote better clinical outcomes, and lower overall healthcare costs.

A recent analysis of the economic impact of nurse advice lines showed that callers who followed the advice they received lowered their healthcare spend by $328 (on average). Nurse advice lines give members direct access to medical professionals over the phone so they can make more educated decisions about their care (e.g., whether to resolve an issue at home or visit an emergency department).

Nurse advice lines are an important example of telehealth’s potential to positively impact vulnerable patient populations. Yet it takes a dedicated strategy to promote long-term telehealth patient engagement. These tips should be an important part of that strategy.

1. Utilize telehealth outreach to direct members to the right care.

With access to telehealth, rural and low-income populations could better manage their conditions despite the challenges of transportation and making physical appointments. However, it’s equally important to direct members to the ED or a specialist’s office when their condition warrants it. Use easily accessible telehealth outreach, such as nurse advice lines, to direct members to the care they need, when they need it.

2. Encourage telehealth use in all aspects of members’ healthcare.

As telehealth use has grown, members have been able to benefit from telehealth in nearly every aspect of their healthcare. Not everyone realizes this, however, or takes full advantage of the opportunity. Encourage members to utilize telehealth for more convenient and cost-effective dental and vision services, as well as general health or chronic condition management.

3. Focus on medication adherence and chronic condition management.

The ultimate goal of adopting greater telehealth use in all aspects of a member’s care is to promote better clinical outcomes and more successful chronic condition management. Achieving these goals requires focusing on medication adherence, which telehealth makes easier through the use of remote biometric monitoring and medication delivery capabilities. Remote monitoring allows providers and payers to ensure proper medication adherence.

Long-term patient engagement in telehealth will be an increasingly important factor in promoting better patient health outcomes. Health plans can make a positive impact by encouraging the use of telehealth services among members for help adhering to treatment plans, managing chronic conditions, accessing convenient and cost-effective dental and vision care, and locating the correct location (whether virtual or physical) for care needs.